Posts Tagged ‘Deportivo la coruna’

Lucas

Lucas Pérez will be announced in the next 24 hours as an Arsenal player. As a Deportivo de la Coruña fan, I thought it right to scribble some musings on Lucas as a player.

You’ll read a lot in the coming days/weeks about Lucas from people who, quite frankly, watched him very little (if at all). I’m going to condense his history as a footballer into one small paragraph, since I assume most readers just want to know what kind of player he is and if he suits Arsenal.

Lucas is a Deportivo fan, born and bred. He used to sit in the stands with the Riazor Blues, now he represents the club (although not for long). He’s spent two phenomenal years at Depor, clinching goals that secured survival in back-to-back seasons. He even broke the club record of goals scored in consecutive games, toppling Brazilian legend Bebeto. Lucas performed against the biggest of clubs (as evidenced with two goals in two games at the Camp Nou), as well as the smallest of them too. To join Depor, Lucas had to travel around Europe first. When he did arrive, it included minimising his wage by triple and leaving a Champions League club (PAOK). The love and adoration he has for the club has also seen him turn down Leicester, Southampton, Napoli, Zenit & Sevilla this summer. But, when Arsenal come knocking, it’s hard to resist. Especially when you’re 27, at the peak of your game and performing at a club far smaller in current stature.

Now, about Lucas as a player. It says a lot that Arsene Wenger swooped in for the Spaniard after being turned down by Jamie Vardy. Stylistically, both are the same type of player: lean forwards with bags of speed and energy, always raring to break the defensive line and find themselves one-on-one. In fact, much like Vardy, Lucas suits the counter-attacking style of football. A style that Arsenal irregularly employ, which may be a sticking point. If Wenger does switch for this sort of style, which could be supported by the fact he’s chased down two identical strikers this summer, Arsenal may just have pulled off a bargain considering the current market. One interesting fact about Lucas is that he can speak English, having used it as a form of communication in Ukraine and Greece while plying his trade there.

“Lucas isn’t a prolific goal scorer” – that’s something you’ll be reading a lot over the coming days, supported of course by baseless statistics that don’t consider the fact that he only started playing as a striker last season. He’s often been an interior or attacking-midfielder, sticking close to the striker on his team. Arsenal have Olivier Giroud, a striker synonymous with performing at his best when he has a player that operates closely with him (Griezmann for France, occasionally Walcott for Arsenal). Lucas offers Wenger that duality in style: he can be the counter-attacking striker that punishes opposition defences or he can be a foil and creator for Giroud.

Lucas amassed eight assists and 17 goals last year. A career high. While that may seem measly in a time where footballers are filling their boots with 40+ goals per season, one has to consider the club. As a Deportivo fan, I have struggled in the last 5-6 years with strikers who end as top scorers for the club with just 7-10 goals. The issue they all have in common is a lack of creator in the side. Strikers are often forced to carve out their own chances here, so that’s a testament to Lucas’ comfortability and quality as a forward. He chases down possession, effortlessly carries the game forward and then applies a slick finishing touch. This, with no creator. Arsenal have Mesut Özil – a player crying out for more goal scorers to support – and the likes of a supporting cast of Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey etc. The list goes on. Lucas had virtually nobody last season, nor the season before that. He was plucking goals out of nothing, such as the one embedded below.

Lucas has also shown that he can bring the best out of players around him. Luis Alberto, for example, had his best season knocking in goals for Sevilla’s B team. At Liverpool & Málaga, he was fairly poor. At Depor, though, we saw the best of Luis Alberto. Why? Because Lucas, when working in tandem with another forward, is a fantastic footballer. And if he strikes this partnership with, say, Alexis or Giroud, then Arsenal fans are likely to be salivating come the end of the summer.

Am I saying he’s perfect for Arsenal? Not really. There are a few caveats. Will Wenger arrange the system around him? That’s one. But the other comes as part of Lucas’ main issue: he takes a few chances before he puts one away. That may frustrate some, but it’s also worth looking at the other side of things: will he score more if he’s less inclined to snap away at the half chances he creates and simply latch onto a perfectly weighted pass instead? Lucas also requires a bit of freedom if his game is to truly prosper. It’s far from clear what his role will be, but he is an upgrade on all of Arsenal’s wingers (bar Alexis) at the very least.

And, just briefly, since I mentioned Alexis, Arsenal fans will love Lucas Pérez for the same reason they love the Chilean. He works extremely hard – and not in an English “he runs about a bit” type. Lucas will bust a lung to revive a loose ball and, once he collects it, he will carry it forward. Unlike Alexis, though, Lucas is less of a dribbler so will look to release possession to a team-mate once he wins the ball back.

Is he perfect? No. And is he the striker Arsenal 100% wanted this summer? No. But I think he could prove to be an exceptional capture if, as aforementioned, the system is arranged to suit his game. He could be the perfect partner for Giroud and Alexis. Stylistically speaking, Wenger has a very versatile player on his hands that could be the key to saving what has been a miserable summer & start to the season.

 

I’d like to wish Lucas the best at Arsenal. Thank you for helping the city of A Coruña dream again; for the goals, the assists, the times you picked the team up from the rubble surrounding it. Thank you for that goal that sparked the revival against Barcelona that kept us up; the goal against Villarreal that also secured our safety the year after. Noraboa, boa sorte. 

My favourite Lucas Pérez moment: he tells Germán Lux that he will save Nolito’s penalty in the derby game, then tells Nolito he’s going to miss. Both things happen, and Lucas celebrates like this: 

Many will be familiar with the name Víctor Sánchez. After all, he was part of that golden generation of Deportivo players that won the Copa del Rey in 2002 at the Bernabeu. He may not be remembered for the flair of Djalminha or creativity of Juan Carlos Valerón, but he was the guy who would bust a lung to dominate the wings and always sustained a high level of productivity. Today, at the age of 39, he is the manager of the club in question: Dépor.

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Víctor lifting the Copa del Rey in 2002

Víctor returned to A Coruña on the 9th of April with the club in the relegation zone, having just sacked the underachieving Victor Fernandez. Dépor were in a rut, struggling to get points and failing to operate as a cohesive unit. Individualism was valued over unity and it was a major component of the club’s unsuccessful return to La Liga.

Víctor’s job was tough: keep Dépor in the top flight with only eight games to go. In those eight games, there were three prestigious opponents: Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona. His only loss in those three games came against Atléti, with two draws in the others to keep Dépor in La Liga. The final game, in fact, was away at Barcelona. Los Blanquiazules were 2-0 down at half-time… 2-0 down with 23 minutes to go. Fast-forward to the final whistle and Dépor were celebrating on the Camp Nou pitch. Lucas Pérez and Salomão scored in the final 20 minutes to turn the game on its head and keep Los Blanquiazules in the Spanish Primera. It was a game of pure ecstasy, but Víctor was the puppeteer.

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Lucas and Víctor embrace at the full-time whistle

The 39-year-old’s arrival filled everyone with hope – from the fans, right down to the players. It was his first job as a manager and his hunger was clear to see. He immediately instilled a sense of belief in the changing rooms and the turnaround in performance levels was staggering. Take Salomão, the scorer of the goal that kept Dépor in the top flight, for example: he had barely featured all season, with the previous manager discarding him from the squad due to personal disagreements. He had no reason to play with such heart, desire and tenacity, but Víctor awoke those traits from within him and exploited them to turn the club’s fortunes around. It is those minute details that help define a coach, and that is precisely why he is being heralded as the brightest young manager in the country. To undergo your first job with heaps of pressure and come out of the other end unscathed and adored is undeniably impressive.

In the summer, Víctor worked closely with club president Tino Fernandez. The idea was to avoid making the same mistakes as in previous years: purchasing washed up journeymen and exhausting a partnership with super agent Jorge Mendes. The club wanted a fresh recruitment policy and the 39-year-old delivered just that. He went out of his way to bring Lucas Pérez back to A Coruña after a flawless loan spell – the striker needed little persuading, having grown up in the city as a supporter of the club. He made the decision to pick up some of the better, discarded players in Spain rather than going abroad for relative unknowns on the cheap. Thus Fernando Navarro, Fayçal Fajr, Pedro Mosquera, Alejandro Arribas, Cani, Fede Cartabia and Luis Alberto. These were players available on a free or happy to move on loan – their one thing in common? They all play in Spain. Víctor wisely opted for the more secure choices that would instill stability and immediate results to a Dépor devoid of that. His final signings: Borges, Riera, Sidnei and Juanfran were all returning to the club after loan spells the season prior. Jonathan Rodriguez and Jonas Gutierrez were the black sheep, arriving from Portugal and England respectively. The entire squad, bar Lucas, was assembled for zilch – with this crop of players, Víctor has taken the Galician club to unfathomable heights.

This season, Víctor has proceeded to amplify the quality of every single player in the side; he squeezes 15% more out of each individual. Moroccan midfielder Fajr was a fairly good – bordering on mediocre – player reaching his late 20s at Elche. Under the Spanish coach, he is now #9 in the list for chances created in La Liga. Furthermore, he has been capped by the Moroccan national team for the first time due to his outstanding club performances.

If our focus shifts to Mosquera, the same has occurred. He was a good defensive-midfielder at Elche, having failed to make an impact at Real Madrid, but now he is widely regarded as one of the best defensive-midfielders in Spain. He is constantly battling for possession, providing cover for his defence while also mixing it up with his passing to create chances. He has become integral to the way Dépor operate as a unit.

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Mosquera on presentation day

Lastly, and while there are other examples, none shines brightest than the Lucas one. Lucas was great in the 14/15 season, scoring some important goals amidst battling with recurring injuries. He scored six all season. As of now, he has 11 league goals in 15 games; his name is being widespread and campaigned in favour of a Spain cap & a trip to France for the 2016 European Championships.

All three of the aforementioned players are 27 years of age and were largely unknown on a grand scale up until this season. Víctor has catapulted them to humble stardom where they now transcend the opinions of their fan base and are widely accepted to be fantastic footballers.

It isn’t just his man-management or astute transfer policy that has helped him succeed. No, it is also down to his tactical flexibility. Víctor toys with different formations and player roles to exploit an opponent’s weakness pre-game and even during it. He started the 2015/16 season with an explosive attacking side that was scoring regularly and playing with no fear away from home. Yet in those extremely tough fixtures, the Spaniard shakes things up and plays with four full-backs to nullify the opposition’s overload on the flanks. It forces teams to move to the centre – where Dépor defend at their best with Mosquera, Sidnei and Arribas gobbling up possession regularly.

Víctor’s most impressive trait is the manner in which he meticulously analyses the opposition. Not only in-game, where he regularly adapts to the rival’s moves, but pre-game too. In fact, that is where he shines brightest. For the goalkeepers, he makes them watch the previous game of the upcoming opponent to see how they were shooting and from where. By doing this, it increases the goalkeeper’s awareness and gives him an edge over the rival players. It was successful most recently when Dépor triumphed in the Galician derby, with Germán Lux stopping Nolito’s penalty and his trademark technique of cutting inside and curling shots.

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Lux celebrates stopping Nolito’s penalty

With the strikers, he trains them all together and has them playing in different combinations to exploit an opposition’s weakness. Lucas is always the mainstay, boasting the ability to drop deep and carry the ball forward with blistering pace and technique. His partner differs from the towering Riera to the rapid and diminutive Jonathan. If he expects the opposition to deploy a high-line, he assembles Lucas and Jonathan together. If he is expecting a more combative game, then Riera joins Lucas to impose his physicality over the opposition’s defence.

Some managers attempt combinations, but fail to analyse the opposition’s recent games in-depth to truly determine how they will operate. Víctor’s attention to detail intertwines with a willingness to succeed and that is the key component to Dépor’s revival this season.

As of now, Víctor has undergone 26 games at Dépor losing a mere four times. He has won eight and drawn 14 – some of which have been against the more bigger clubs in the country: Atlético, Barcelona (twice), Valencia, Sevilla and Athletic (twice). When he returned to A Coruña he said, “This is a club that has suffered a lot. I want to bring hope back to Dépor.” He has done just that, and then some. Not only has he upped the belief and faith of everyone at the club, but he has allowed the entire city to dream of bigger and better things. For once, the dark cloud that has surrounded the club for the last seven years is beginning to disperse into sunlight.

Expect to hear the name ‘Víctor Sánchez’ roll off the tongue of many in the coming years from all corners of the footballing world. His ceiling is impossible to predict and he boasts the greatest of tools to succeed in the game. An adaptable, tactically savvy man-manager that can mastermind positive results with his impressive attention to detail, the sky really is the limit for the young Spaniard.

 

 

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Canadian international, Ben Fisk, joined Deportivo in August as a free agent. Following an impressive season at Coruxo, and after leaving Vancouver Whitecaps, he was approached by Los Blanquiazules. The forward, aged 22, becomes the third Canadian to represent the club after Samuel Piette (now on loan at Racing de Ferrol) and Julian De Guzman.

Despite joining to represent the youth team (Fabril), Fisk has high hopes of breaking into the senior side.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with the youngster and ask him a few questions about his career, Canadian football and his big move to Spain.

Chris Moar:

What attracted you to Deportivo?

Ben Fisk:

I wanted to play at the highest level possible and, at the moment, I think La Liga is the best league in the world. Depor are a great club, with prestigious history, and I suppose it doesn’t hurt that they are located in such a beautiful city!

CM:

Do you have aspirations of breaking into the first-team right away?

BF:

Of course. My goal is to break into the first-team here as soon as possible. In 2-3 years, I want to be playing and scoring goals with the first-team here in A Coruña.

CM:

You mention scoring goals – would you say that is a particular strength of yours?

BF: 

Definitely. I’ve scored goals at every level I’ve played at and I hope to continue that here.

CM: 

On the topic of scoring at every level, you spent last season at Galician club Coruxo and scored a hat-trick against Tropezon. How did you find it there?

BF:

Last season was a great transitional period for me. I was adapting to the Spanish game, as well as living abroad and learning a new foreign culture. I enjoyed my time at Coruxo and I’m utterly grateful to them for allowing me to get my foot in the door of Spanish football.

Fisk kisses the ball that he struck to help Coruxo qualify for the Copa Federación.

Fisk kisses the ball that he struck to help Coruxo qualify for the Copa Federación.

CM:

How does Spanish football compare to anything you have witnessed? Have you learned things about the Spanish game that you wish you could pass on to other youngsters in Canada?

BF: 

As I said before, I think Spanish football is the best in the world right now. The difference between football here and in Canada is the tactical side of things. In Canada we address the physical, mental and technical side of the game very well, but the tactical side is either neglected entirely or poorly taught. With the national team, though, Benito Flores has really placed emphasis on our tactics and, for that reason alone, I think we will see more successful Canadian teams in the coming years.

CM:

Now that you are at a bigger club, could this be your chance to finally pick up a national team cap?

BF:

I’ve been in camp with the senior team a couple times now without picking up my first cap. But I’m very confident playing in that environment and confident in the fact that, if I just focus on playing well at club level, I will get my first cap soon enough.

CM: 

On the topic of Canada, how important is it that many young players have now, more than ever before, have started travelling around the globe in an attempt to develop their games?

BF: 

I think it’s very important for Canadian football that we have young players who are ambitious and getting themselves embroiled in different environments around the globe. It is a testament to both the mentality and quality of our players that we are able to find clubs all over the world. It only bodes well for our national team in the future, too. 

CM:

Just to wrap things up, since many Depor fans are unaware of your qualities, what would you highlight as a glaring strength/weakness and where are you most comfortable on the pitch?

BF:

I think my biggest strength is my combination of pace and dribbling ability but, if I look at my game critically, I would probably highlight my finishing as a weakness. It needs to be more clinical. As for my most comfortable position, I am happy anywhere in the final third – be it on either wing or up front.

I would like to thank Ben for giving me his time to conduct this interview and I wish him the utmost success at Deportivo. 

You already know who scored the most goals, who some opine was the best player; but have you seen a La Liga alphabet of the best and worst performers? Probably not. So, here is mine with almost (sorry, Levante) one mention of every club in the league.

A – Aduriz. The Athletic Bilbao striker produced his best league goal scoring season (18) and cemented himself as the highest scoring Spaniard in La Liga as well. Additionally, his five Copa del Rey goals steered Athletic to the final. The Basque club’s tough task will be when the 34-year-old requires replacing. Some bright names come to mind from the academy (Villalibre, Williams and Guillermo), but it will take a while until the towering forward’s influence can be remotely replicated.

Aduriz

B – Bueno. Like the former, Alberto Bueno turned in his highest scoring season ever in La Liga. The Real Madrid product helped Rayo Vallecano to another comfortable season finish by netting 17 – including four goals in one game. Such was the high magnitude of his performances that, once the season ended, FC Porto acquired his services.

C – Camacho. The Malaga midfielder’s season was his best since the 12/13 season. In fact, some would argue it was better. Casting a net over his defence, Camacho produced three successful tackles and three interceptions, on average, per game. A staggering amount for a Malaga side that were outplayed and overrun in midfield a multitude of times last season under Bernd Schuster.

D – Djukic. The manager was only at Cordoba for five months, but results did not quite reflect the influence he had on his players. For a while under Djukic, the players were happy and playing more positive and fluid football than under Albert Ferrer – whom they failed to win a game under. The squad just wasn’t good enough for any manager to save; three men tried. Djukic has had horrid luck choosing teams to manage since departing from Real Valladolid to Valencia. His talent as a manager is quite high, and he is still learning, but perhaps he should choose potential jobs better.

E – Eibar. Their fairytale story was almost as impressive and welcome as their scintillating form at the start of the season. At one point, they were as high as 8th – this, with the smallest budget and stadium in the league. They were overachieving by a long stretch of the imagination. But their squad size showed after January, when fixtures become thicker and targets intensified. They capitulated, picking up just 9 points from January 16th until the final day. Unfortunately, their story was cut short with no fairytale ending: a relegation on head-to-head. 35 points did not suffice for them the way it did with Deportivo and Granada.

F – Fabricio. The Spanish goalkeeper just has not received the praise he deserves. His season has been on par with that of Keylor Navas’ in his final year at Levante. Double saves, triple saves, last minute saves, one-on-one saves – he has done the lot to keep Deportivo in La Liga. Without him, the club would have gone down even before Cordoba. He made 77 saves and kept 11 clean-sheets; most of which were, without exaggeration, solely down to him. Even on the final day his influence was tantamount to Depor’s survival. Two double saves kept the Galicians in the game at the Camp Nou. A game which Depor would draw 2-2 to ensure safety.

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G – Gracia. Malaga struggled excruciatingly last season under Schuster, scraping the relegation zone and playing some negative football. Nordin Amrabat was their only spark and subsequent reason as to why they stayed up. Their appointment of Javi Gracia – to replace Schuster – was a masterstroke. Malaga have played some beautiful, expansive football with one of the youngest starting XI’s in the league. In fact, their forwards’ performances were of high enough level that Vicente Del Bosque deemed them good enough for the Spain setup: Juanmi and Samu. Gracia is a young manager fixated on playing good, attacking football through the prism of youth. With a better finisher than Juanmi, Malaga could well have finished in a Europa League spot or beyond.

H – Hernandez. Celta’s Pablo Hernandez scored one of the finest goals of the season – a mid-air back-heel flick past Moya – but his season consisted of sporadic starts and inconsistency in the final third. His influence was minimal, his involvement in associative play lacking. The Chilean was underwhelming despite the chance to have all eyes on him following that nonchalant goal against Atletico Madrid.

I – Iñigo. Real Sociedad’s defender was a highly sought after product two seasons ago for his stalwart defensive performances during a successful campaign from the Basque club. Although last season was poor, riddled with defensive errors and inconsistencies, this season was the opposite. He was outstanding, especially since Moyes’ arrival and insistence on a strong defence. Despite very few speaking highly of him, rest assured his performances were back to being consistent and excellent. He is ready for a move to better things.

J – Jonathas. On loan from Pescara, the Elche striker was one of the most impressive in the league. He scored and created circa 60% of Elche’s goals and was the standout reason as to why the club avoided relegation once again. His big upper-body, combined with pace and quick feet has drawn comparisons to Diego Costa quickly. I see him more in the mould of Bacca, personally. Speaking of which, he could very well be the Colombian’s replacement should Sevilla feel like parting ways.

Jonathas

K – Krychowiak. Simply the best defensive-midfielder in the league at the moment. When Ivan Rakitic departed, many were waiting to see who the like-for-like replacement was, but Emery opted for a combative midfielder to shake up the system. Krychowiak has been phenomenal in breaking up play, protecting his defence and winning aerial duels. His passing range has been a plus, debunking the myth that combative midfielders have null passing range.

L – Luis Enrique. The Barcelona manager was quickly lambasted and vilified at the start of the season for “stripping Barcelona of its identity” as one writer scribed. Barcelona were winning without dominating, scoring just one goal – typically from a youngster. But patience is key and Luis Enrique is now on course for a treble-winning season. He has converted Barcelona from a tiki-taka style no longer suiting their set-up, to a more explosive attacking approach. This has coincided with what I believe is Messi’s greatest period of form ever. This focus on attacking has seen every ounce of power, technicality and intelligence squeezed out of the best forward line in Europe: Messi, Neymar and Suarez.

M – Mediterráneos. I may be cheating a bit, but Almeria’s stadium name is long enough and they deserve a bit of the spotlight. Their home form against sides battling them for survival was astounding. They comfortably outplayed and pummelled teams – for a while, they were feared for this trait. But their away form was lacking and the over-reliance of winning on home turf became apparent. Despite their relegation, Almeria played better football than the two teams that finished above them on the final day.

N – Nolito. The Celta forward was outstanding – bar a dip in form from January until February. He scored 12 and assisted 11 – a great return which placed Celta just four points away from a Europa League spot. His season was so good that Del Bosque called him up to the Spain squad. This was, without a doubt, better than his season with Granada or anything he ever produced with Benfica.

O – Otamendi. Valencia haven’t had a centre-back this good since Ayala’s departure. Genuinely. He has been the best centre-back in La Liga this season, and this after being a risky signing. He has scored important goals, defeating big teams, but has also been the key in a defence that only conceded 32 goals – especially impressive because most of it was made up of new players. It is no surprise that the biggest of teams are seeking his signature.

Otamendi

P – Pepe. The Portuguese defender is often ridiculed and parodied for his aggressive, air-headed nature but this season has seen a complete transformation. He has outperformed Sergio Ramos – something which has not happened since he arrived at the club. He was a rock in the heart of Real Madrid’s defence and is beginning to gain (genuine) praise that is not followed by sly remarks about his outlandishness.

Q – Quique Sanchez Flores. Aside from being the most well-dressed manager to ever grace a football pitch, it was a shame to see Quique manage for little over 40 days in La Liga. Employed by Getafe, he shortly left after a dispute with the shambolic board. He is an intelligent manager with an exceptional eye for analysis (as shown by his punditry on TVE and others). It would be nice to see Quique manage in a top league again and, this time, for a longer period of time.

R – Rico. Rare is the occasion when a 21-year-old goalkeeper, in his debut season, outshines the veteran ahead of him in such fashion that wins him a call-up to his elite national team. This has been the season of Sergio Rico. Replacing an injured Beto, he has become the undisputed number one. Reflexes, cross-claiming, handling… name it, he has it. The only thing needed from Rico is a full season to assess his weakness and strengths but, as of now, he has been one of the finest goalkeepers in the country. Which says a lot when you consider the quality of his fellow shot-stoppers.

S – Sergio Gonzalez. Another refreshing, young manager in La Liga with a lot of talent. Sergio almost took Espanyol to another Copa del Rey final, but his work in the league was as commendable. Up until the final day, the Catalan club were still in contention for a Europa League spot. His man-management ensured that the best would be seen again from Stuani and Garcia in attack but also instilled a strong, defensive foundation led by Diego Colotto and Alvaro Gonzalez.

T – Tiago. The Atletico Madrid midfielder had a fantastic season – one of the best at the club. And he’s 34-years of age. Staggering, yes, but he plays with a youthfulness to his game that helps him carry out roles either as a box-to-box midfielder or deep playmaker. He can win a header with proficiency as high as he can unpick a defence. He is combative; he is intelligent. There are few central-midfielders better than Tiago in La Liga. He is the reason very few have spoken of Gabi’s huge dip of form in comparison to last season. His age is also the reason very few will appreciate his quality.

U – Unai Emery. Another Europa League final, another 5th placed finish. He is Mr. Consistency. The football Sevilla have played this season is mouthwatering. The power, energy and efficiency is matched by none in La Liga. The amount of Sevilla players called up to the Spain squad can only be beaten by Barcelona and Real Madrid – those players can partly thank him for their breakthroughs. He has done all of this to enormous effect, putting him on Florentino Perez’s shortlist for future Real Madrid manager. And maybe it wouldn’t be too farfetched to see him there one day.

Emery

V – Vietto. Perhaps the most exciting, young striker in Europe this season. His darting runs, intelligence in build-up and high level of finishing has seen him lead Villarreal to a Europa League spot. Others have performed highly, too, but he is the magic behind things; the reason neutrals tune in to watch the Yellow Submarine. His strong technical level makes it very easy to get excited by his potential. There is no doubt that he will reach the very top. I would usually reserve this for players of his age, but he could definitely make the step up to an elite club and wouldn’t look a beat out of place.

W – Weligton. 13 yellow cards, two red cards. The 35-year-old lived a season that was personally lackadaisical and lethargic on the pitch. He may be an integral part of Malaga’s defensive system, but his errors are hurting them. He is great at clearing the ball, but anything that involves on-ground work can quickly see him caught out. His erratic nature, age and regressive quality means that Malaga should start looking for a replacement.

X – Xavi. I don’t want this to become a discursive essay on why Xavi is the greatest Spanish footballer ever, so I’ll cut it short: he is. This was his final season and, at times, he still showed himself to be the brain of the side. Used sporadically by Luis Enrique, Xavi has struggled less with the physical side of the game. He is on course for his second career treble – a perfect send-off for a perfect playmaker.

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Y – Yoda. No, not the little green dude from Star Wars. This Getafe player has had quite an exciting season. He caught headlines with his name, but quickly turned discussions to the direction of his technical ability. He is a fabulous dribbler, with pace to burn and creative freedom to break out of Getafe’s restrictive approach in the final third. Despite not featuring as often as hoped, every performance added a bit of flavour to Getafe’s build-up and movement.

Z – Zuculini. This young midfielder embodied the wrong decisions that most promising players make. After joining Manchester City, it is believed that he had the choice to join three clubs: Valencia, Deportivo and Sunderland. Valencia was his choice, despite knowing that he wouldn’t play ahead of the pre-existing stars and the talented reinforcements made by ridiculously rich owner, Peter Lim. He could have opted for Deportivo – where the midfield was rotated more than any other position – or Sunderland where he would have comfortably added some flair to a typically physical midfield. Zuculini made zilch starts for Valencia and just one substitute performance. His loan was later terminated and he ended up at Cordoba, making eight appearances, with a distinct lack of motivation.

Image via (EPA/EMILIO NARANJO)

Image via (EPA/EMILIO NARANJO)

When speaking about Isaac Cuenca, Pep Guardiola once said: “girls may not like him, physically, but on the pitch he does amazing things.” Unfortunately for Cuenca, it may now be managers and clubs who do not like him because he no longer does “amazing things”.

When Cuenca joined Deportivo la Coruña in the summer of 2014, many perceived this to be a coup of enormous proportions for the newly promoted Galician club. It was a chance for the forward to reinvent himself by reaching a high level of fitness, subsequently through game time, and build his way back up to the level some had touted him to accomplish before chronic injuries entered his career. Still, at 23-years of age, his career was far from conclusion. The move excited neutrals and fans alike, but Cuenca’s performances have been rather distasteful and disappointing as we near the season end.

The injury record was a fear initially, but the scariest prospect for Depor was that Cuenca only signed a one-year contract. Surprisingly enough, though, there is only a little percentage now that would like to see him at the club beyond the summer. In fact, even the board seem somewhat reluctant to dish out an extension – summed up by the lack of contractual talks in comparison to goalkeeper Fabricio and soon-to-be out of contract Juan Dominguez.

Perhaps the most concerning element of Cuenca’s game has been his greediness. The aimless shooting, ball hogging and reluctance to release passes has both frustrated his teammates and ruined the infrequent attacks that Depor struggle to create. In fact, Cuenca’s created chances count is only 16 in 27 games – a concerning stat when one considers that January signing, Oriol Riera, has created more. In addition, defensive and combative midfielder Álex Bergantiños has trumped those figures, too. For a player that lingers high up field and boasts a tremendous amount of flair, his lack of activity and contribution has been staggering at the very least.

There was a particular moment in January which, in the grand scheme of things, could end up condemning Depor to the Segunda (second division). Away to Levante – a relegation rival up until mid-April – Cuenca had a golden chance to secure a vital three points and head-to-head victory. Running from deep inside his own half, Cuenca broke through Levante’s defensive lines and found himself ten yards away from the opposition box. Now surrounded by five Levante players, Cuenca’s only sane option was to play a (simple) pass into the direction of an unmarked Jose Rodriguez, who had a clear path to enter a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper. Cuenca, though, decided it would be a good idea to blast a long-range shot miles over the bar and squander a chance to put Depor in a healthier league position. This sequence, though, was not a one-off. That was Cuenca’s season condensed into a 15 second moment.

Jose Rodriguez is in acres of space

Jose Rodriguez is in acres of space

Cuenca’s issues transcend poor decision-making on the pitch. In his press conferences, there have been countless rambling mentions of Barcelona and his past. This is a clear mental block that he is suffering from and it, evidently, affects his game. He appears to be struggling to come to terms with not succeeding there and agreeing to a termination of his contract one year short. But this lamenting of the past can only be put behind him if he proves his worth and quality; yet the hunger is not there. Barcelona have a lengthy track record of re-signing players who were once theirs in recent years (Pique, Alba, Fabregas etc.) and this should motivate Cuenca to grasp his chance at reinvention. Alas, it has not been the case whatsoever, disappointingly enough.

Cuenca’s attitude is another branch in his tree of poor mentality. There are moments where he plays as though he is above others – it is clear to see by his body language and languid movement that he believes himself to be playing a few notches below his talent level. Not only is this a complete lack of disrespect toward a club that offered him the chance to reignite his career, it creates a division between the player and fan base. Yet his confidence doesn’t seem to run low when he is outright criticised and lambasted by fans and the media. It contributes to this idea that he simply does not care about the delicate situation surrounding the club, nor the progression of his own career.

Injuries have lessened considerably since his arrival at Depor – an argument can no longer be concocted about his stagnation deriving from the lack of game time. He has played 27 league games, spanning under the tutelage of two managers, at a ridiculously low level. Chances aplenty have come his way to fix poor form yet he fails to grasp them firmly with both hands, rather aimlessly flailing one at them. The prospect of what could be is why Cuenca continues to get minutes ahead of the explosive Diogo Salomão – a player more deserving of opportunities with similar past situations to Cuenca’s.

The Catalonian is, without a doubt, the most talented and technically gifted player in the Depor squad. But technical qualities rarely ever outweigh the severe lack of mentality. And in Cuenca’s case, he has the poorest in the squad.

Let’s face it, the newly turned 24-year-old is the type of player who should be dragging Depor by the scruff of the neck and over the relegation zone line – especially when various other teammates are pulling their own weight. Cuenca cowers away from challenges and expectation which is concerning for a player who was destined to reach colossal heights when at Barcelona. The competitive mentality that he acquired there is bereft from his game now, and his performance levels drop drastically when he receives the ball irregularly or is asked to perform in defensive duties. For a club like Barcelona, which stylistically tends to mould their academy products into team players, it is borderline barbaric that Cuenca is anything but.

Cuenca’s saving grace for the rest of his career will likely be his name and the prestige attached to it from a young age. It is no surprise that bigger (currently) clubs like Benfica and Valencia are looking to acquire his services once he becomes a free agent in the summer. In the former’s case, it is clear desire to attempt to develop him and sell on for a healthy profit. But the latter is mind-boggling, especially with newly found heaps of income. They could do much better by spending a few million elsewhere. That is the harsh reality that now surrounds Cuenca’s career.

It wasn’t just injuries holding him back, but his attitude too. The move to Depor was supposed to humble and provide him with a platform to quickly rise up again and prove his quality. But he has thrown it back into the faces of everyone who has ever believed in him. From Pep Guardiola, to a club taking him in despite injury concerns. Cuenca may never reach the heights once expected of him but whereas that may be sad for some, it is through his own failings that he has reached this point.

If you are looking for answers regarding Fernando Vazquez’s managerial credentials, you might as well close this article because none of that will be provided. I am attempting to make sense of Fernando Vazquez as a manager, including his sometimes head-scratching tactics. Sometimes things aren’t always rosy when you are sitting at the top of the league table by five clear points.

Vazquez smiles, some fans frown.

Vazquez smiles, some fans frown

When listening to Vazquez every week, and then watching his side execute the plans set out for them, it is clear to see that there is no real brand of football at the Riazor. Whilst this is all fine and dandy when you are playing in the second tier of Spanish football, it is sometimes scary for the fans who have seen their side go from masterminding one of the greatest Champions League nights of all-time – beating Ancelotti’s AC Milan 4-0 – to now scrapping with clubs such as Real Jaen, Barcelona B and so on.

Over the summer, due to reasons beyond his power, Vazquez saw many of his players leave due to financial restrictions and the end of loan moves. This meant that Vazquez had to operate with an extremely thin squad, devoid of quality and with a need to dip into the youth system. Vazquez promised a breath of fresh air with the Cantera (academy) players getting a lot of first-team football. Of the five players Vazquez mentioned, only one has really broken into the first-team and, at that, is arguably the most consistent player in the side – Pablo Insua. This was the beginning of the strange case of Fernando Vazquez and, since then, we have seen him toy with ideas and fail to execute them. It is almost as if he poses himself some challenges and questions, yet aborts them to play on the safer side. Whilst some, myself included, have berated him this season for performances lacking identity and clarity, it is hard to malign a manager who has his side sitting top of the second division by five clear points when, at the start of the season, many would have settle for a mid-table or play-off push (for the ambitious).

The brightest gem from the cantera, Bicho, who receives orders from Vazquez

The brightest gem from the cantera, Bicho, who receives orders from Vazquez

After talking to many Deportivo fans regarding Fernando Vazquez, it seems as though everyone agrees on the same thing: he needs to stop making negative substitutions. Deportivo will be controlling the game by one goal with 30 minutes to go and Vazquez will remove an attacker for a heavily defensive-minded player, usually switching the formation to a five-man defence. What this usually does is swing the pendulum in the opposition’s favour as they begin to hit Deportivo with a flurry of attacks. If the game is being controlled and the side look like being able to kill it off, there is no need to opt for a defensive style of play. Whilst some, looking from the outside, may see this as Vazquez being cautious and defending the lead, it often puts Deportivo in a precarious position. Against Tenerife, a couple of games ago, Deportivo were controlling the game after finding themselves a goal up for a good 60 minutes. Despite getting closer to scoring, Vazquez removed Juan Carlos, an attacking midfielder who had been creating chances, and replaced him with central defender Carlos Marchena. The side reverted to a five man defence and, a minute later, Marchena’s first contribution to the game would be to give a penalty away. Ricardo Leon scored and the game ended 1-1, despite Deportivo having the chance to capitalise on a poor performance from the opposition. Defensive changes don’t always solidify the defence; in fact, defensive changes like Vazquez’s usually mean that attacking players scamper around not knowing what their role and duty in the side is. It is almost as though Vazquez switches from an 11 player game to 5, sometimes 6.

One extremely strange thing about Vazquez is that he is a fantastic manager for the level he is managing in but the problem is that he rarely takes risks when they present themselves. To compare him to another manager in Spain, he is almost like Emery. Emery is a wonderful manager but his main flaw, and it is a huge one, is his inability to take risks in order to kill off sides that his team should be beating. He is happy to defend any lead. Vazquez’s problem is similar, yet he sometimes seems happy to defend what he starts off with when the whistle blows for the first time in a game. When Vazquez does take risks, Deportivo play some exciting football and this was highlighted in yesterday’s 2-0 over Recreativo de Huelva. This was the best I had seen Deportivo play all season as Vazquez opted to start the game with no defensive cover in midfield – something which delighted many who were basking under the sun in the beautiful stadium of Riazor. Vazquez played with Juan Dominguez as the sole holding midfielder, yet his role was still one where he operates from deep to link the midfield to the attack rather than sweeping up loose balls or battling to win back possession. Back-heels from loanee Rabello, a few step-overs from Luis Fernandez and some outrageous bits of skill from Sissoko really showed how dangerous this Deportivo side can be without the shackles being cast on their creativity and freedom on the pitch.

The players celebrate after the best performance of the season

The players celebrate after the best performance of the season

If he knows how capable his side are of playing an exciting brand of football and wiping the floor with most teams in the league, why is it that Vazquez has only realised, with seven games to go, that this style of football suits the side better than any of the previous styles? Vazquez plays the “defence” card whenever he is asked why his side never go for the kill and opt for this negative brand of football. Vazquez wins these battles with the journalists because Deportivo are the side who have conceded the least amount of goals in the league, yet Deportivo’s best performances in the league this season have seen them keep two clean-sheets whilst playing some exciting attacking football (0-3 Sabadell, 2-0 Recreativo). The defence play better when the plan is not to focus on them to do the dirty work and hope for a lucky attacking break. Insua himself said that he feels more comfortable pushing the defensive line forward than forcing it closer to his own goalkeeper.

Now, I do not want this article to seem as though I dislike Vazquez because I think he is a very good manager. My qualms with him have already been stated but I would also like to defend some of his decisions and why he does not take risks. When Vazquez arrived at Deportivo last season, with the side rooted to the bottom of the table, the first thing he did was bring Valeron back into the first-team and allow the side to play with freedom and creativity; Deportivo almost achieved the great escape from relegation due to this brand of football but the damage had already prevailed prior to Vazquez’s arrival. This shows that Vazquez is able to take risks and play for the win rather than being comfortable with a draw, ecstatic with a win and seemingly o.k with a loss. But one can understand why Vazquez has taken this approach in the Segunda (second division) this season: he knows that Deportivo do not have the best players in the final third (more applicable before January but point still stands) so focuses on building the core of the side around the defence which is seemingly strong. By doing this, Deportivo are able to slowly climb up the table, getting some points here and there on the road back to stabilising themselves as a club and reaching the first division. Vazquez has always spoken highly of the fans – they have kept the club ashore for the past few seasons despite the sometimes unbearable rocky moments – so it could be said that he does not want to disappoint the fans with poor, yet brave results. The kind of results that annoy you because you were good but conceded a fairly dodgy goal. Vazquez plays it safe and, by doing so, he has put Deportivo in a great position with seven games to go. That cannot be argued against.

I guess the overall point of this is to explain Vazquez’s tactics, give my opinion on them, but also to defend the man who sometimes comes under obscene amounts of scrutiny due to his negative approach to games. Whatever happens this season, I just hope that Vazquez continues to drag the team along to La Liga. From there-on out, if Vazquez continues at the club, he will have to rethink his strategies because the first division can be diabolical if you go into it negatively like Valladolid, Betis and Osasuna have, at some points, this season. Taking risks may come with a few thrashings but it can lead to continuously proving doubters wrong like Paco Jemez’s wonderful Rayo Vallecano side. Whatever Vazquez’s approach may be next season, he has his work cut out: extremely tight budget, the squad will become even thinner as loanees depart and some key players may even opt to jump ship.

culio-roja

 

With Deportivo La Coruña crowned ‘winter champions’ – a title thrown around for whoever is top of the league when the winter break commences – January loomed on the club as Lendoiro announced that there will be ins and outs in the transfer window. Many pondered on the departure of some fringe players with the addition of others better than them, but not many predicted the departure of Culio. The Argentine midfielder joined Depor in the summer of 2013 and made an impact straight away. He became a fan favourite almost immediately as he combined talent with a strong work ethic; he became the club’s most important and consistent player. The heartbeat of the side. Whether it was Depor putting the ball into the net, or coming close, you’d better believe that Culio was the man pulling the strings and creating those chances.

Don’t mistake Culio for just a playmaker; he can tackle with efficiency, and recklessness at times, too. Culio can play anywhere in midfield, bar the deepest role, as well as on either flank. In modern football, versatility is key and gives you a stronger chance of being a mainstay in the squad. Culio rolled versatility and ability into one enormous ball which, coincidentally, led to many ranking him as the best attacking midfielder in the Segunda. 

But why would Culio leave Depor? A club with a genuine chance at promotion, more-so than they had prior to him. A club where he was the first name on the team-sheet. One can only imagine that Culio’s departure was for two reasons, be it one or the other, or both. The first reason would be money. His new club, Al-Wasl, represent Qatar and are outrageously wealthy in comparison to Depor; therefore, wages offered would be higher than anything Depor could provide him with. The other reason would be club stability. Depor are susceptible to liquidation at any moment with a click of the administrators’ and judge’s fingers. Culio, most likely, wanted to surround himself in a calmer and more delightful atmosphere than the one casting a large cloud over Depor’s future as a football club. But there are also reasons why he should have stayed: a shot at La Liga. Depor have a chance of gaining promotion this season, having been top of the league for a good six weeks (as of writing this), and a couple additions to the squad would have pushed them even further to the ‘promised land’ of La Liga. Surely the chance of playing in the most elite league in Spain is far more exciting and challenging than the Qatari league?

Moving on, where does this now leave Depor? Despite being top of the league, it’s quite worrying to look at the future without Culio. He was by far the most efficient and consistent player as well as the most influential in the final third. In the three games Depor have played without Culio, they have scored a whopping zero goals. Even with Culio, chances were often created sporadically as he had to carry the burden of creativity. Fernando Vazquez and Lendoiro have promised signings, but the manager seems more intent on signing someone to put chances away instead of someone who creates them. This side needs a creator more than a goalscorer. Baston and Luis are, perhaps, too young to lead a forward line alone but have done fairly good jobs in spurts, especially considering a lack of chances put on a plate for them.

There are some internal replacements that Vazquez could look at, despite being in dear need of someone from the outside to replace Culio. The first option for Vazquez would be to push Juan Dominguez from the pivot up to an attacking-midfield position. Dominguez was always seen as the heir to Valeron, but tailored his game to a deeper position until the club legend departed in June, 2013. Dominguez has the nous to operate further up the field but doubts have to be cast over his creativity. His quick turns and innovative tricks with those nimble feet of his suit a role further up the pitch  but he has never been a consistent creator; he’s someone who dictates play and creates, sporadically, from a much deeper position. Moving him to attacking-midfield would mean a pivot of Wilk & Alex which, on paper, sounds quite good. Wilk likes to cast a net over the defence and cover a lot of ground in defensive areas whilst Alex, who is very good defensively, seems to be deployed as the deep-lying playmaker – a role which doesn’t suit him because he loses possession quite frequently. The pivot could be quite solid in defensive terms but Depor would lose someone who can recycle possession and carry the ball forward in Juan Dominguez.

A number synonymous with a creative player but can Juan Dominguez be Depor's creator? (image courtesy of riazor.org)

A number synonymous with a creative player but can Juan Dominguez be Depor’s creator? (image courtesy of riazor.org)

The second and third options can really be tied in together because both players are quite similar. The players in question are Juan Carlos & Bicho. Juan Carlos has sporadically featured this season on the right-hand side, a position which doesn’t suit his game at all. Juan Carlos is a traditional playmaker and nothing more than that. The only real problem with his game is that he can go missing for an unimaginable amount of time; he’ll create one chance and do just that. This is a huge problem because someone like Culio would at least get involved in an interchanging game with his wingers and drop deep to win possession back or collect the ball. Although Juan Carlos is being judged on his performances in a position which he is not accustomed to, he would really have to step up his game to assure Vazquez and the fans that he can fill the Culio-shaped hole.The third option is Bicho. Bicho is only 17-years of age, but his vision and footballing brain is incredibly advanced for his age. Bicho has been tracked by clubs like Manchester City recently which speaks volumes of his talent. Bicho frequently stands out as the creator in the youth echelons of Depor and Spain. He made his professional debut in Depor’s first game of the season against Las Palmas and, since then, has rarely featured in the league. In the two Copa del Rey games, Bicho struggled to shine as he, quite evident to the average viewer, was trying too hard to impress. This is a big problem for Vazquez as deploying Bicho as a regular attacking-midfielder would lead to the youngster feeling obscene amounts of pressure to replicate the performances set by Culio and Valeron before him.

Vazquez giving Bicho some instructions.

Vazquez giving Bicho some instructions.

Although the three options are cost-effective for the club, they have more cons than pros. Vazquez can either choose Juan Dominguez and play a fairly unbalanced pivot, losing Juan Dominguez’s influence from deep or he can opt for the invisibility of Juan Carlos and the inexperience of Bicho. This isn’t to knock any of the players either as I, personally, feel as though it could work for any of them if there wasn’t the risk of weakening another position or ruining their future potential due to pressure.

Vazquez could be looking at players from outside the club as potential Culio replacements. Whereas many names have been touted and thrown around, one of them Vazquez has commented on: Ariel Ibagaza (Olympiacos). Ibagaza is an attacking-midfielder who shares an insane amount of similarities with Culio. Both are outstanding set-piece takers, both give 100% in every game and both are frequent tacklers despite lingering high up the pitch most of the time. Ibagaza would be the perfect replacement but the only problem, and it’s a huge one, is his age. At 37, one has to imagine that Ibagaza is nearing the end of his career and a move to Depor would be one where he could enjoy his football in a less-demanding league than the Greek one. He would probably expect 2+ years in his contract because, at that age, players want stability more than hopping from club to club. Unfortunately, stability and Depor don’t go hand-in-hand. He would be given a one-year contract, one would presume, which would leave the club in a precarious position should the rise to La Liga occur.

Whatever happens regarding a Culio replacement, I hope that it isn’t an internal one. The club need to take promotion seriously, especially as it leads to a little cash injection which could be used to clear a bit of the debt. An investment now, using the Culio money (circa 300,000) would mean that the club are looking up, rather than down. An internal replacement would be a very coy move and one that could cost the club a sensational bounce-back to La Liga.